EU-Wide Nuclear Safety Rules

EU-wide, legally binding peer reviews to verify the technical compliance of nuclear installations should take place every six years, according to proposed new rules.

This new system of peer reviews is the key objective of a new Commission proposal on nuclear safety. New guidelines would be developed on the basis of the results of these peer reviews.

The legislative proposal also aims to improve transparency and citizen involvement. To this end, plant regulators would be required to provide more prompt information to the public, particularly in case of accidents, and citizens would have the opportunity to participate in the licensing process of nuclear installations.

There are currently 132 nuclear reactors operating in the EU, and some EU countries are interested in building new ones. Stress tests (risk and safety assessments) conducted in the EU following this accident showed that while the overall safety level of Europe’s reactors is good, there is room for improvement, says the Commission, which argues that a common EU-wide approach to nuclear safety is needed.

In addition to conclusions drawn from Fukushima and the stress tests, this proposal is based on various sources of expertise, notably ENSREG, the group of scientific experts established under the Article 31 of Euratom Treaty, along with reports from non-EU countries such as Japan and the US. It also takes into account the views expressed by stakeholders, including national regulators, industry and civil society.

The Proposal

This proposal for a Directive would substantially strengthen the provisions of the existing directive. It aims to achieve the following:

• Introduce EU-wide safety objectives 
• Set up a European system of peer reviews of nuclear installations
• Increase transparency on nuclear safety matters
• Strengthen the role and independence of national regulatory authorities
• Introduce a requirement of specific safety reviews for older nuclear power plants 
• Implement strict accident management guidelines 
• Put in place emergency response centres which must be protected against radioactivity and earthquakes or flooding
Peer Reviews

Fixed technical requirements can become quickly obsolete given the continuous improvements expected in safety over time. In fact, they can become a disincentive for further development of a sound nuclear safety culture in Europe. The Commission believes that a more flexible and dynamic process is required.

This proposal, which amends the nuclear safety directive from 2009, sets out EU-wide safety objectives to significantly reduce the risks and protect people and the environment. It introduces a system of regular European peer reviews, which aims to increase transparency on nuclear safety matters and strengthen the powers of national regulators.

The topical peer review system allows for a verification mechanism to ensure that common safety objectives are achieved at EU level. The introduction of topical peer reviews was largely inspired by the peer review process used during the nuclear stress tests undertaken after the Fukushima accident, whilst here the assessments will each time focus on different safety aspects.

A peer review of one or more nuclear safety topics will be organised at least every six years. First, national assessments will be prepared, and these will be submitted for a peer review. The results of the peer review will then be translated into concrete technical recommendations.

The Role of Member States

Based on their importance and relevance, the topics of the peer reviews will be chosen by Member States with the support of regulators and in close coordination with the Commission. An example of a topic could be systems to allow safe depressurising of a reactor containment in case of an accident (e.g. by means of containment filtered venting). National regulatory authorities will be obliged to publish the results of these peer reviews.

In addition, in case of an accident and major safety problems, Member State will have to organise a peer review of the installation within six months. They should ensure that – in case of accidents - the release of radioactivity in the environment is practically eliminated.

Every nuclear power plant will be obliged to undergo a periodic safety review at least once every ten years and a specific review in case of a possible life time extension. For new power plants, all new nuclear power plants will have to be designed in a way that ensures that if a reactor core is damaged, this has no consequences outside the plant.

On-site emergency preparedness and response are also covered. Every nuclear power plant will need to have an emergency response centre, which is protected against radioactivity and earthquakes or flooding and implements strict accident management guidelines.

As to transparency, national regulatory authorities and plant operators will have to develop a strategy, which will define how public is informed in the event of an accident, but also in times of normal operation of the plant. This strategy will have to be published. In addition, citizens will have the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process when the licensing of a new nuclear power plant is being chosen.

The directive also ensures that national regulatory authorities are independent in their decision-making and that political, economic or societal interests cannot override safety objectives. National regulatory authorities must be allocated sufficient funds and expert staff to allow their effective operation.

The Role of The Commission

If Member States fail to select at least one topic for a peer review, the Commission will decide on the topics. If the Commission identifies deviations or delays in the implementation of peer review recommendations, it can launch a verification mission to be carried out by other Member States.

The Commission will continue to monitor the implementation of other relevant legislation, for example in the areas of radiation protection or radioactive waste management. It will also promote research activities aimed at improving the safety of nuclear installations.

Outside the EU, the Commission will continue to engage, in particular with EU neighbouring countries, and provide assistance to ensure that countries planning to start using nuclear energy will meet internationally recognised nuclear safety standards. In this context, the Commission will continue to cooperate closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Next Steps

The Directive should be adopted in 2014. National governments would then have 18 months to introduce implementing legislation.